It’s been bandied about as a cure for our collective ills, a proverbial balm in our Gilead, as if the mere utterance of its name will calm the ideological seas and save us from our present misfortunes:
In the days since White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was (politely, I might add) asked to leave a Virginia restaurant, we’ve heard a lot about decency and how those who take umbrage with her frequently deceitful, combative manner of managing daily briefings have chosen to respond. For one restaurant owner, clearly fed up with an administration that believed sequestering children in metal pens is the moral answer to stemming the tide of would-be immigrants, enough was enough. She polled her staff, and then politely declined to serve Sanders’ party.
Republicans and some Democrats took to social media to breathlessly decry the incident as an reincarnation of Jim Crow. It’s not. What happened to Sanders and other Trump advisers isn’t even a distant cousin by marriage and those who make that argument are either dishonest or mis-educated about the very real systems of disenfranchisement still at work in this country.
It certainly is not, as Jon Meacham proclaimed, “colonial era in terms of public shaming, with virtual and symbolic stocks in the public square rather than literal ones.” The position that he is taking seriously, though not literally, is in fact anything but serious.
This administration has been engaged in the mass incarceration of children, some as young as three months old. Now, it now has plans to house tens of thousands of detainees on our nation’s military bases. Trump also says he wants to get rid of due process for those who come to our borders seeking asylum, ending one of the foundational civil liberties that separates this country from authoritarian nations. Who thinks he would stop with asylum-seekers?
There should be a public price to pay for that. There should be a price to pay for propping up and supporting this president’s virulently racist policies and plans.
Media outlets still shy away from words like racist and liar—as if ignoring those characteristics or calling them by some other term somehow maintains their veneer of objectivity. But that silence is a position, in and of itself. Failure to call a thing by its name is a failure to recognize its existence.
Sanders is not a victim of bigotry. She is simply facing the consequences of her own actions. It’s the reason most people, even if they are so inclined in private, do not run down the street shouting n*gger at random passersby. It’s why I skipped the chance to drop trou and moon my last boss. A thriving society benefits when the village serves as a check on behaviors.
The notion that liberals are somehow missing an opportunity to sway Trump voters on key issues is pure, unadulterated poppycock.
Decorum has its uses. However, there comes a time when failure to call out the most egregious acts in the strongest possible terms amounts to a capitulation. The rights to free speech and assembly were designed specifically to protect the civilian protester. And, if you disagree with those protesters, you’re protected, too. The Bill of Rights was constructed to endure our most fitful arguments, to allow all within our borders the fundamental right to challenge this government without fear of state reprisal. It was designed to ensure the flow of the discourse, not to stamp it out.
Those who think human rights are fungible don’t deserve a road paved with courtesy. To the contrary, people who advance hateful ideas and revel in the suppression of others should be met with admonitions, not smiling service.
There is value in civil discourse, of course. I believe in the power of marches and sit-ins. However, there are also moments when our higher angels should cuss like sailors. This is one of them.
That’s where the village comes in. We do not have to accept Sanders’ patronage or her money. Fundamental fairness does not require us to roll out a welcome mat for her mendacity and bigotry. We certainly are not obligated to stoke the campfire and let her sing her hateful songs without challenge. Or, for that matter, give Ann Coulter any more air time after she smeared children separated from their parents and detained by our government as “child actors.”
Pundits are not a protected class, and neither are White House water-carriers.
Our actions (should) have consequences and it’s high time the so-called party of personal responsibility takes some for itself. Use cherry-picked Bible verses to defend caging children and you might not get a seat at your favorite restaurant. Your usually quiet neighbor might flip you off as you mow the lawn. Members of your church might write a letter accusing you of child abuse. Your law-school classmates might pen a public rebuke.
I am certain Jesus would have baked the cake and he might have even knelt down to wash Sanders’ feet, but he was also known for flipping over tables in the temple.